Last call: Latvian (and Bontok) extlang subtags

Doug Ewell doug at
Sun Feb 7 23:26:20 CET 2010

Michael Everson <everson at evertype dot com> wrote:

>> (2) Whether three new extended language subtags shall be created for 
>> Northern Bontok ("bnc-rbk"), Central Bontok ("bnc-lbk"), and 
>> Southwestern Bontok ("bnc-vbk"), which are new ISO 639-3 code 
>> elements encompassed by Bontok ('bnc'), recently reclassified as a 
>> macrolanguage and renamed from "Central Bontoc."
> Logically I must also approve this.

Not so.

As Kent (my opponent in the Latvian argument) points out, the creation 
of macrolanguages and encompassed languages by ISO 639-3 does require us 
to create new primary language subtags, but it does NOT require us to 
create new extended language subtags.  That is a function of whether you 
(we) believe that the new macro/extended relationship is like the 
relationship between the Chinese and Arabic languages, such that 
(quoting RFC 5646):

(1) the members of the language family "have a specific dominant variety 
that is generally synonymous with the macrolanguage," or

(2) the members of the language family "have traditionally used their 
primary language subtag, possibly coupled with various region subtags or 
as part of a registered grandfathered tag, to indicate the language."

This is true, for example, for Chinese: people have used "zh" in 
language-tagging applications to mean Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, and 
others.  On the other hand, it does not appear that there has been 
widespread use of "cr" in language-tagging applications to mean Plains 
Cree, Moose Cree, Swampy Cree, and others.  That is why, while the 
members of both of these language families (intended not to be an ISO 
639-3 term) have primary language subtags, only the Chinese languages 
have extlangs as well.

I agree with Kent that nobody seems to have argued in favor of adding 
extlangs for the three Bontok languages, since there is apparently no 
evidence of widespread use of "bnc" for all of these.  (Anyone with 
evidence to the contrary should obviously speak up!)  At the same time, 
we must add primary language subtags for them, since they have been 
added to 639-3 and there is no conflict with anything in the Registry.

Kent is also correct that there is no "absolute need" to register 
extlangs for Standard Latvian and Latgalian.  Where we differ on this 
point is that I believe it would be advantageous to do so, because the 
Latvian situation is more analogous to Chinese than to Bontok, whereas 
Kent believes the set of extlangs is, or should be, closed a priori.

This is why I have asked you to use your linguistic judgment (and 
interpretation of RFC 5646) to decide whether these extlangs should be 
created.  Please note, again, that there is no question of whether to 
add the corresponding primary language subtags; those must be added.

Doug Ewell  |  Thornton, Colorado, USA  |
RFC 5645, 4645, UTN #14  |  ietf-languages @ ­ 

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